Guardians of Standards
Barracks inspection, always a major NCO duty, was especially important in the early nineteenth century. Strict discipline and standards were vital for a small Army trying to preserve a sense of professionalism despite being scattered across a vast frontier. In spartan barracks the NCOs had to enforce the clearly defined rules issued by the War Department. Here the regimental sergeant major and the first sergeant inspect the furniture and equipment in a typical small frontier post.
During the early 1820s the Army's regular regiments were scattered in small detachments across the frontier or in coastal fortifications, living in austere barracks. Four men slept in a double-tier bunk, two men on each level, sharing the straw-filled bedsack and blankets. The soldier had to use his knapsack to store all his possessions.
Regulations issued in 1821 provided a clearly defined set of standards for uniform dress which the NCOs used in evaluating their men. European styles still influenced the design of American uniforms, as seen in the high collar trimmed in worsted lace. The regulation specified a different color trim for each branch, including the buttons. The infantry, for example, wore white; the yellow seen here indicates artillery.
Because the "Bell Crown" leather cap could be an agony on hot days, a workman's style forage cap would be introduced in 1828.
By 1820, the wearing of a sash and a sword (here, an 1819 Starr Contract model) served as badges of rank only for first sergeants and above. The 1821 regulations
introduced to the uniform shoulder wings causing chevrons, rather than the traditional epaulets, to mark the uniform as that of a regimental sergeant major shown at the left. The summer fatigue dress worn by the company first sergeant on the right had no additional insignia.